As far as I'm concerned, the only reason to go on vacation (aside from that whole bonding with your family thing) is to read books. Here are the five I dog-eared, covered with sand and carried around the world over the past two weeks, in order of how much I liked them:
1) The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb
This book, which will be out in April, is another masterpiece by the author of Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in the Markets. "Black Swans" are rare, unpredictable and high-impact events--practically everything important, in other words. Taleb's point is that most of the world is built around bell-curve assumptions of predictability (averages, standard-deviation, etc), even as it's actually increasingly dominated by powerlaws, which make averages meaningless. You'll realize that everything you learned in Stats 101 is misleading. Mindblowing.
2) Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder by David Weinberger
The author (or co-author) of such classics as The Cluetrain Manifestoand Small Pieces Loosely Joined is back with another spot-on insight into what's really different about our digital age. It will be out in May and yes, that's my blurb on the cover: "The world is messy, like it or not, and it's only going to get messier as the Web destroys rules and rule-makers. You can either complain about the chaos and wish for the good old days of order, or you can buy this book and understand why delirious disorder will soon make us all smarter."
3) Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
I know: I can't believe I haven't read this already. But I pretty much stopped reading fiction after high school and this came out in 1985. I decided to read it in parallel with my 9-year-old, and it works very well for both generations. The idea of genius kids who are being trained with videogames, not knowing that they're actually commanding real armies, is a classic. Less recognized is that Card anticipated blogs, too, with his anonymous digital pamphleteers using fiery rhetoric to rise to power. We're now turning to some of the other books in this long-running series.
4) Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony Williams.
In truth, I only skimmed this one, although I intend to come back to it and read it properly. Don Tapscott has great instincts (Growing Up Digital was his early and prescient look at how technology's real impact moves at a generational pace) and I agree with him entirely on the profound importance of open collaboration. From what I've seen so far, this looks very good. Also skimmed with intention to return was The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations, which also appears promising.
5) A Perfect Mess: The Hidden Benefits of Disorder--How Crammed Closets, Cluttered Offices, and On-the-Fly Planning Make the World a Better Place by Eric Abrahamson and David Freedman
What a disappointment. I was really looking forward to this, since I've been banging on for some time about how the web is inherently messy: a little slop at the microscale is the price you pay for extraordinary power at the macroscale. As David Weinberger says far better in his book above, our human craving for order makes fuzzy statistical systems counterintuitive. But that's our problem, not theirs. I'd hoped that A Perfect Mess would focus on the web and other information systems, but instead it actually does what its subhed promises: looks mostly at desks, closets and other personal organizational habits. This may lead to a lucrative speaking and consulting career reassuring those with too much clutter, but it makes for a pretty pedestrian read for anyone looking for something more intellectually challenging.